Nimona review: colourful, creative and rebellious animation

NIMONA - A Knight (Riz Ahmed) is framed for a crime he didn't commit and the only person who can help him prove his innocence is Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a shape-shifting teen who might also be a monster he's sworn to kill. Set in a techno-medieval world unlike anything animation has tackled before, this is a story about the labels we assign to people and the shapeshifter who refuses to be defined by anyone. Cr: Netflix © 2022
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Chloe Grace Moretz voices a shape-shifting teenager in the creative and chaotic Nimona – from the directors of Spies In Disguise.

If there’s one thing that Netflix is good at, it’s taking on interesting animated projects that may not have had as much of a chance elsewhere. Last year’s The Sea Beast and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio were both incredible achievements, with the latter having languished in development hell from as early as 2008. Nimona, too, is a film that struggled, but with its colourful characters, genre-hybridising world and sincere moral message, it’s absolutely wonderful that it exists.

The tale of a shape-shifting girl named Nimona and Ballister, a knight framed for a grievous crime, the movie was originally set to be made at Blue Sky Studios. Once their parent company, 20th Century Fox, was acquired by Disney, the project was delayed several times before being cancelled for good when Blue Sky was shut down in 2021. Former Blue Sky staffers allege that Disney was uncomfortable with the film’s LGBTQ+ themes.

We have independent production company Annapurna Pictures to thank for its revival, and they’ve done Blue Sky proud with their finished version of the movie. Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, who worked also on Blue Sky project Spies In Disguise, have crafted a film that feels, above all else, rebellious.

That’s largely down to the title character. Voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz, Nimona enters Ballister’s life after he becomes a wanted criminal, insisting that she be his sidekick. A fiery personality with a mischievous glint in her eye and an obsession with violence – but also some underlying vulnerability – she’s an unlikely heroine and a great counterpoint to Ballister’s strong moral compass. Riz Ahmed often brings a sense of bewilderment and frustration to the voice of the usually affable Ballister. The one thing the pair have in common is that they’re both villainised by society. The city has even built high walls and weapons to keep ‘monsters’ like Nimona out.

Together, they adventure through a city that creatively combines the aesthetics of medieval fantasy and science fiction to find evidence of his innocence, and who really committed the crime. The various stages of their search often don’t end well, and the action sequences that ensue are incredible fun. Nimona’s chaotic energy often worsens the situation and her shape-shifting abilities really come in handy. The way these scenes are planned out feels as chaotic as the main character herself, in the best possible way. They’re often set to a punky, upbeat soundtrack, too.

Chasing Ballister and Nimona are his fellow knights, namely the hilariously named Ambrosius Goldenloin and Thoddeus Sureblade. Nimona isn’t the only character that defies type – some of these knights are also written to surprise us. Nimona knows what our expectations of certain characters will be, and takes deliberate steps to be different. The characters that are on the more stereotypical side are usually well written.

The plot often plays out in ways that are much more predictable, but it’s the film’s message that’s particularly lovely. Nimona asks us to reassess the ingrained prejudices in society, and to defy labelling people. Ballister and Nimona are both smart choices for leading characters in a film with this message. Ballister is mocked for coming from humble beginnings and is also openly gay. Prejudice against Nimona comes from her inhuman abilities, but at times her character could also be read as trans-coded. She’s certainly not gender conforming. But these characteristics aren’t at all the main focus, they’re simply a part of who they are.

Nimona is colourful, creative and chaotic. But it also has a heart of gold. It’s a great thing that, despite the various obstacles, it managed to get made in the end.

Nimona is streaming on Netflix from 30th June.

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